A respectful sister named Mona once told me that during a scholarly session with a Muslim preacher, the attendees were asked, “Do you know the names of the members of the Brazilian football national team?” To the questioner’s surprise, they managed to recall the names of all the players not escaping even one of the reserves! Then he asked them to recall the names of the wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). However, while recalling some of his wives —such as A’ishah, Khadijah, and Sawdah —, other names such as Fatimah and Aminah were also mentioned, not knowing that the former is the Prophet’s daughter, while the latter is his own mother! Finally, it turned out that the attendees, though some of whom, if not all, were supposedly seekers of Shariah-based and Islamic knowledge, could not recall all the names of the Prophet’s wives!

Now, let us develop that preacher’s simple question a little bit. Let us ask another but more difficult question: Have you, my dear reader, ever been asked, “How many Companions of the Prophet do you know? How many of them can you recall now?”

If not, now I am posing this same question to you.

Your answer may be, “One, ten, a dozen, a score, or even a hundred.”

But, surely it will not be, “One thousand!”

It is very weird that none of us, myself included, can ever count more than a thousand companions, while in the Farewell Hajj there were about 100,000 of them accompanying the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). If one tries to check all the books on the Prophet’s biography and the literature on the great Islamic liberation battles (i.e. Al-Futuhat Al-Islamiyyah), one will find a maximum of a thousand names of male and female Companions. Some scholars say that all the Companions who were mentioned in these books are no more than 10,000!

An inescapable question arises, “Where are the others? Where can one locate them?”

This is a very serious question; to answer it, let us move a little bit to the field of construction. Yes, when you see a high building, you naturally assume that the architect who designed and built it must have dug the ground and laid the deep foundations of that building in order for it to be stable and unshaken. Thus, for a mere building to be well-built and to be safe for man to take as a habitation, it should be deep-rooted in the earth with great amounts of concrete and steel employed.

The same is true when it comes to the true religion of Islam; it is a divine and sacred religion established by Almighty Allah. Yes, this is true, but not without a human effort. This is one of the laws put by Almighty Allah: For Islam to be well-established on earth and for it to survive in the way designed by Him, Muslims should shoulder their responsibilities and keep up their duties. Their efforts in this regard will be the criterion on which they will be called for final reckoning. One of the most fundamental duties Muslims should be heedful of is the duty of calling people, all people, to Islam and the Oneness of Allah.

If Allah intended to disseminate His religion on earth and make all people believe in Him, this would be a very easy thing for Him to do, for He is the Almighty, the All-Powerful Who can do whatever He wills. However, it is a test for us. If we succeed, we will be abundantly rewarded. But, if we fail to be up to our responsibilities, we will be held accountable for that, too. I have once heard a statement that went as follows, “Oh, what a religion! If only there are [real] men [to shoulder it]!”

Oh Allah, resurrect me with Sahib An-Naqb (the man of the hole)!

In a way to answer the question, this is how the building of Islam went high into the sky. It was set up through the efforts of more than 90 percent of those Companions whose names and life stories we don’t know. Their efforts constituted the real foundation and spread of this religion. After Allah, were it not for their efforts, Islam would not have come to us as complete and perfect as it is now!

All I can think of now is the story of the man in the army of Maslamah ibn `Abdul-Malik. During one of the battles against the unbelievers, this man volunteered to enter the enemy’s fortress through a hole for discarding wastes. After successfully doing this and thus bringing victory to Muslims, the leader, Maslamah, exerted much effort to identify and reward him. But, failing to make the man present himself publicly, Maslamah declared that he must come to his headquarters at any time, day or night. Maslamah did so after trying for three consecutive days to urge him to make himself known. Finally, while Maslamah was sitting in his own tent, a man covering his face entered. Maslamah asked him, “Are you the man who managed to open the door through the hole?” The man replied, “I am his messenger and he stipulates three conditions to make himself known to you.” Maslamah said, “Speak up!” The man said, “First, you should not reward him. Second, you should not set him above other soldiers. Third, you should not inform the Caliph about his name.” Maslamah nodded his head in agreement. Then, the man unveiled his face and said, “I am the man”. Afterwards, Maslamah used to invoke Almighty Allah, saying, “Oh Allah, resurrect me with Sahib An-Naqb (Arabic for: the man of the hole)!” The name of this man was never mentioned anywhere and is still unknown until now!

This man and the like are the ones about whom Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Let none of you abuse (slander) my Companions. For by Him in Whose Hand is my life, if one of you spent (in the way of Allah) the equivalent of mount Uhud in gold, it would not reach a handful nor half a handful of what they spent (you will never reach their value).” (Al-Bukhari)

And whom Allah the Almighty says about,

(Of the believers are men who are true to that which they covenanted with Allah. Some of them have paid their vow by death (in battle), and some of them still are waiting; and they have not altered in the least.) (An-Nur 33:23)

They are the unknown soldiers, and the ideal models for loyalty, sacrifice, and selflessness.

They were people treading on the ground, while their hearts were attached to the Creator.

Their foreheads hoisted high in the sky till they touched the clouds.

They regarded as their leader no one but Allah and thus their goal was crystal clear to them: seeking the pleasure of Allah Alone.

They were heedless of the people’s praise and negligent of their dispraise.

They would prefer to sink deep in the ground to being seen by anyone else while they worship Almighty Allah or call people to venerate Him.

Many people now do not recognize them, but it suffices them that Allah knows them.

May Allah resurrect us with them or make us similar to them. Amen.

There remains a final word that should not be overlooked. It goes without saying that beside these thousands of Companions whom we do not know by name, there were some famous ones about whom we almost know everything and some others whose lives we know a little of. These were made known to us by Almighty Allah so as to be landmarks and guiding stars in the darkness of this present life. They were made famous to help us deduce from them, their biographies, or even glimpses of their lives, life lessons and wisdom that may help us go through the journey of life till we meet with them all under the shade of the Throne of the All-Merciful, being encompassed by His Mercy.

By Dr. Ali Al-Halawani